Doc Saturday turns his eye to LSU...
The verdict? Well, cover your eyes, Tiger fans:
Non-Binding Forecast. I think this is a critical year for the program in the long term: The Tigers appear more vulnerable than at any point since Saban's departure, but if they can hold the line at nine wins with a New Year's Day bowl, 2011 shapes up as a possible return to form. Again, based on talent alone, 2010 could be a return to form in its own right. Given the extreme youth throughout the lineup and the killer schedule, though, nine wins would be an achievement. If the diehards can handle 8-4 with a subtle uptick toward the end of the year, the outlook could be a little brighter at this time next year. You can do subtle, right, Tiger fans?
Honestly, that's a fair assessment from an outsider, and I think LSU fans will do well to remember that before flipping out if the team does indeed go 9-3. Setting a fair standard of success is the key to fair criticism.
Now, my only real gripe with the preview is that he completely glosses over just how miserable our running game was, and the causes of that collapse. In fact, I think Hinton really thinks LSU is on the verge of a terrible season, reading into his "Worst Case"
The presumptive improvement on offense is mostly of the "can't get any worse" variety, but without concrete steps forward by Jefferson and the offensive line, it doesn't necessarily have to get any better, either. The defense, with so many new faces, is probably even less likely to improve.
Let's deal with the defense first. I do think there are a lot of new faces up front (thankfully), but the back seven won't look that much different from last year, and almost all of LSU's defensive improvement came from the back seven. Sheppard led the team in tackles and Peterson is clearly our best player, regardless of position. Both return. There isn't much experienced linebacker depth, but the secondary is full of guys who have already contributed.
I think Hinton could be right as it is a Worst Case, but a) I don't think the defense needs to improve all that much and b) the expected improvement needs to be from the front four, who are all largely new. I'm not staying up at nights worried about the defense.
The offense, OTOH, he's got a point. There's just no way to spin it: the offense sucked last year. Hinton points to Jefferson and the offensive line's needed improvements. But how is this not improvement for Jefferson?
FR - 36/73, 53.2%, 419 yards, 4 TD/1 INT, 112.9 Rating
SO - 182/296, 61.5%, 2166 yards, 17 TD/7 INT, 137.2 Rating
While Jefferson's sophomore year numbers don't scream "Heisman!", they also don't show a poor performance. In fact, Jefferson's sophomore year numbers are pretty good. You'd like to see some more yards, but nothing in Jefferson's line suggests he's the problem. He looks like a pretty efficient QB who took care of the ball. He's the dreaded game manager. Even without improvement, those are acceptable numbers from a quarterback on a team with title aspirations. LSU ranked 97th in passing yards, which is a problem. Alabama ranked 92nd, so its not that big of a problem (Oregon ranked 98th and went to the Rose Bowl, Nebraska 101st and made the Big 12 title game, and Virginia Tech ranked 95th en route to yet another 10 win season).
No, we're not counting on Jefferson to suddenly become Tommy Hodson, we're counting on our offensive line not to suck. LSU's 90th ranked running game is the real culprit here, and there is no similar list of successful teams with a lousy running game.
So, is hoping for improvement nothing but wishful thinking?
Really, all of the offseason boils down to this simple question: will the running game improve? I am hoping against hope the offensive line improves simply by virtue of more playing time. We have some talented youngsters, but really, we're just hoping the linemen show some improvement.
On the running back front, I do think it is fair to point out LSU suffered through a bunch of injuries last year. Richard Murphy was hurt for essentially the whole season. Charles Scott suffered a collarbone injury against Bama. Keiland Williams never developed, and then he got hurt anyway. By the bowl game, we were on our fourth string running back. I don't think hoping for some new blood and some health is quite just hoping things improve because they can't get worse. It will be an entirely different backfield.
It's a good article, and a fair take on next year's team. But I will admit I'm a little more optimistic than Doc Saturday. Maybe it's the purple and gold glasses.